What Is Wrong With Zionism

I could convert to Christianity, declare myself no longer a Jew, start and sell a line of artisanal bacon, raise my daughter to be a Wiccan, and many Jews I know would be totally cool with that. But oppose the State of Israel—a state, let us recall, a state—and suddenly I’ve crossed a line. I’m no longer a Jew in good standing, I’ve betrayed some basic trust, I’ve become a problem. This is what Zionism has done to Judaism. This, among other things, is what is wrong with Zionism.


  1. yastreblyansky September 27, 2014 at 11:16 pm | #

    Off topic, but a really nice item for your collection: It seems almost certain that Thomas Carlyle never said “I do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance” as so many, most famously James Surowiecki, believe he did. It is possible that H.L. Mencken said “”Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.” But I can’t document that either. There’s also an attribution to the Duke of Marlborough (!), from Australia, 1984.

  2. yastreblyansky September 27, 2014 at 11:23 pm | #

    Not to distract from your important point. I notice, by the way, that nobody ever goes after the Haredim who believe that a Jewish state cannot exist since the Messiah hasn’t shown up yet and calls them traitors to Judaism.

  3. nafnaf September 28, 2014 at 2:24 am | #

    Judaism, like Islam, has a national characteristic. To act as if opposing the national character of Judaism is the same as adopting a different religion is, to my way of thinking, incoherent and illogical. Note, that even Haredim to who do not consider Israel legimate recognize the political character of Judaism. So, in my view, you just do not really understand Judaism very well, as your comment shows quite clearly.

    • BillR September 28, 2014 at 5:18 pm | #

      Which of the dozens of countries whose majority is Muslim allows any Muslim anywhere in the world to emigrate based on this “national character” of Islam? Can any of the 150 million plus Indonesian Muslims emigrate to Pakistan, or vice versa based solely on religious grounds? Perhaps Saudi Arabia should be the target of such an aliyah but last I heard Bangladeshis were not very welcome there (in fact, Bangladesh used to be part of Pakistan from it broke off after a bitter civil war notwithstanding religious commonality).

      As for views of the Haredi, notwithstanding their insights into religious national character, they do seem to have trouble with modern notions of air travel:


      • nafnaf September 28, 2014 at 8:30 pm | #

        Your point is what? Judaism is not Islam. It shares the concept of a political element with Islam. But, the two religions are different, so your point is not a point.

        The point I made is that Prof. Robin’s point is not well taken. Nothing you have written has undermined my point.

    • YankeeFrank October 4, 2014 at 2:12 pm | #

      “Judaism, like Islam, has a national characteristic.”

      Without further elucidation of your terms this statement is vague and meaningless. There are Jews of many nations, just as there are Muslims of many nations. Judaism and Islam are religions, and while they have holy sites that exist within certain (overlapping) geographic areas, this does not translate into a “national characteristic” but a geographical-historic characteristic.

      You can make such a claim about mostly any religion, e.g., Catholicism has a national characteristic because the holy see is in Italy.

      And then you go even further and implicitly equate it with Zionism as if “Judaism has a defining national character and that character is Zionism”. My Judaism ascribes very little importance to the sentiment “next year in Jerusalem”.

  4. Hugh D'Andrade (@hugh_dandrade) September 28, 2014 at 3:54 am | #

    Do you have a good, simple definition of Zionism? I see the word used differently in many different contexts. I often wonder if people are talking past each other on the issue because they are defining this word differently. (Writing as a non-jewish atheist with deep ignorance of the complex issues, your help appreciated.)

    • Edward September 28, 2014 at 4:15 pm | #

      One of Norman Finkelstein’s books, I don’t recall which one, discusses three different branches of Zionism.

    • nafnaf September 28, 2014 at 8:32 pm | #

      Modern Zionism is the liberation movement of the Jewish people. After that, there is considerable disagreement, just as there is in all other of the world’s liberation movements.

      • Edward September 29, 2014 at 9:32 am | #

        Actually, Zionism is the colonial movement of some Jewish people.

  5. Snarki, child of Loki September 28, 2014 at 6:37 am | #

    The situation with Israel and Zionism feels very much like having a member of one’s extended family spiraling into self-destructive behavior, while angrily fending off any attempts to get them back on a better path.

    Just a personal view, perhaps too personal.

    • Robin Messing September 28, 2014 at 10:14 am | #

      Good point, Snarki. Israel is addicted to occupation and more settlement building just like a meth addict is addicted to drugs. What is needed in both cases is LOTS of criticism and intervention. In the case of the meth addict, an involuntary stay in a rehab center may be needed. In the case of Israel, BDS may be the prescription. It’s called tough love.

      If our government was doing its job properly, it would call Israel out for its constantly raising a middle finger to the world. It would say to Israel:

      “Your own damn lawyer, Theodor Meron, told you in 1967 that ‘civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.’ Did you listen to him? No… you said ‘screw you, we’re building settlements anyway.’ You started your settlement construction based on a lie… You claimed that your first settlements were merely military outposts, when in fact they were civilian settlements. We and the rest of the world have been warning you that your settlement fetish will torpedo any possibility of reaching a peaceful two state solution. And you replied ‘screw you, we are building anyway.’ Maybe you are building BECAUSE it will torpedo a two state solution. Well guess what. We have been subsidizing your military to the tune of $3 billion a year. And we have saved your ass at the UN Security Council 42 times by being the sole power vetoing resolutions against you. Unless you permanently freeze all settlement construction we will cut your military aid significantly. We will still subsidize Iron Dome and similar purely defensive technologies. But we will stop all other aid. And don’t count on us to expend political capital at the UN saving your butt in the future. When we asked for your support in helping us protest Russia’s occupation of Ukraine, you went AWOL. Why should we help you strengthen your occupation when it is not in our interest to do so?”

      Since our government doesn’t have the balls to take this approach–an approach in our national interest–it is up to the BDS movement to provide Israel with the tough love it so desperately needs.

      Background links supporting claims made in this post:

      On Theodor Meron and Israel’s illegal early settlements





      On the U.S.’s 42 vetoes protecting Israel at the U.N.


      On Israel and Ukraine



      • nafnaf September 28, 2014 at 8:47 pm | #

        The Israelis are addicted to not getting themselves killed, so that they avoid what is now happening to much of the rest of the ME just now. Use some common sense. If the Israelis were not building settlements, they would still face the same issues. And, they would not be any more inclined to to cede any territory with the prospect of the ceded land being turned into a place from which to stage attacks on Israelis.

        For a moment, take a good look at the ME – how it is overall, imagining, if you will, that Israel is not a fantasy country (as Prof. Robin images) that is situated in an otherwise peaceful region – and then ask yourself why the Israelis do not see things as you would. Any serious thought about the situation would convince you that the notion that the Israelis can just satisfy the demands made by Palestinian Arabs is a folly, one that the Israelis understand, just as most Israelis understand that ruling people who do not want their rule is not a good thing. So, for the Israelis the choice is between bad (ruling people who do not want their rule) and awful (being more vulnerable to what is occurring in the countries around them).

  6. Nat September 28, 2014 at 8:30 am | #

    It is hard to read this plaint as anything other than disingenuous. “Opposition to Israel” is a weasel phrase. Presumably you mean opposition to Israel’s existence, not merely it’s government’s policies. If If so, what it portends in the real world, as opposed to the never-never land of one stater delusions, is the expulsion or destruction of millions of Jews. Yes, that’s a “problem” for most Jews. Of course if what you mean is opposition to the current government’s refusal to support two states in good faith, you’re in good Jewish company. Opposition to Zionism could be a legitimate Jewish position before Israel was established based on a variety of interpretations of Judaism. Today, with the lives of millions as the likely cost of abolishing an existing state–yes, state–it is immoral.

    • Corey Robin September 28, 2014 at 12:19 pm | #

      “It is hard to read this plaint as anything other than disingenuous. “Opposition to Israel” is a weasel phrase.”

      I don’t think anyone who knows me or my work on this blog would have missed my actual position on the State of Israel.

      • Alex September 28, 2014 at 2:08 pm | #

        Hey Corey,

        Did a search for an article that explicitly addresses the above question, didn’t find anything directly after going through about 20 titles.

        I’m with you on BDS, think the government of Israel and their supporters are a bunch of schmucks etc but after having visited the old shtetl last May and seen the pretty much total destruction of Jewish life in the Pale (or my grandparents’ part thereof) and seeing the ongoing slaughter in Syria, Iraq on sectarian lines, I do have to wonder about the focus on Israel.

        Why so little positive action re Syria, Iraq? I guess the marcyites and their ilk are all into defending Assad so campaigning for arms to the FSA would be a non-starter. I guess the true mark of a rrrrrevolutionary or an Arab nationalist is to call for single state, BDS etc but not to do much about other countries.

      • Corey Robin September 28, 2014 at 5:25 pm | #

        Alex: “Did a search for an article that explicitly addresses the above question, didn’t find anything directly after going through about 20 titles.”

        Maybe you should have clicked on the 21st: https://coreyrobin.com/2013/09/06/jews-without-israel/

        And as for this — ” I do have to wonder about the focus on Israel. Why so little positive action re Syria, Iraq?” — perhaps you should have clicked on the 22nd:


    • Vicki September 28, 2014 at 2:24 pm | #

      Israel is addicted to settlements? Really? I could, of course, be wrong, but maybe first one Arab country (other than Egypt and Jordan) and the leaders of the Palestinians should all acknowledge the right of Israel to exist. Then, after that, if Israel persists in doing stuff you don’t like, maybe you will have a point. Right now the world is watching varieties of Muslims slaughter each other (and Christians and others) and goad the west with disgusting beheading videos. Israel is not perfect and I am no fan of its right wing government, but that pales in comparison to their neighbors.

      • Edward September 28, 2014 at 4:45 pm | #

        There is no exception clause in international law about having to recognize a “Jewish State”. The settlements/ethnic cleansing of Palestinians are illegal with or without making statements Zionists like.

      • adela September 29, 2014 at 1:55 pm | #

        oh gosh, Vicki, I don’t know about you but Israel’s latest round of slaughter of over 2000 women and children, not to mention the horrific, permanent wounds (Israel created lots of paraplegics I hear) inflicted on over 5,000 civilians seemed pretty barbaric to me. There were reports of lots of decapitations too, you know, lots of grisly stuff. Oh, and remember, that ghastly white phosphorus that Israel deployed on the Palestinians in Gaza during the 2008 and 2012 round of “mowing the lawn”. Can you imagine, dropping bombs on a population that has nowhere to run to, literally imprisoned and no way to escape. Wow. But you know, “Israel is not perfect”.

      • RBJ September 30, 2014 at 3:41 am | #

        Dear adela

        Please continue to ignore the fact that 4500 – that’s four thousand five hundred – rockets and mortar shells were launch by Hamas and directed at civilian communities, cities, kindergartens, schools (anti tank missile was launched directly at a school bus).

        Don’t hesitate to use similar adjectives when discussing these actions.

      • Edward September 30, 2014 at 9:51 am | #


        As far as I can tell, Israel is not really interested in stopping these rockets. Every cease fire has been broken by Israel. If the Israelis don’t want these attacks, why don’t they just stick with the cease fire?

      • Harold October 3, 2014 at 9:49 am | #


        4500 mortars and rockets launched does not equate to over 2000 non-combatants killed in retaliation. How many Israelis were killed by those mortars and rockets?

        I believe the term “overreaction” is very valid here.

      • MAt October 4, 2014 at 7:07 pm | #

        Edward… Hamas broke or rejected all ceasefires…I think Israel used excessive force but didn’t intend to purposefully harm civilians.. I think one has to look at all point of view of all sides without being dismissive.In regard to the settlements, their construction should be halted.I think it’s better to implement a disengangement plan similar to the one planned by Olmert and Sharon

  7. gantonius September 28, 2014 at 8:45 am | #

    Zionism has resurrected a medieval Jewish collective ego that would have died a natural death otherwise.This is no less true on the left.

    There is no secular counterpart to the Haredim, no people of Jewish background who reject Zionism and “the Jewish people” categorically, as did the classical liberal traditions descended from the Enlightenment and emancipation.

    The left is crippled because of it.

    • Edward September 28, 2014 at 4:34 pm | #

      This is simply not true. There has always been a Jewish opposition to Zionism, as described in “The Zionist Connection” by Lilienthal, for example. This opposition was organized in the American Council for Judaism. You can read more about them here:


  8. BillR September 28, 2014 at 10:09 am | #

    Part of the reason for throwing temper tantrums is a calculated response to shut up any critic who strays outside the demarcated “free speech zone” of acceptable (neutered) criticism. Israelis have been perfecting the art of throwing international tantrums and adopting the persona of the notoriously short-fused Mafia “animal” hitman (think Joe Pesci playing Tommy D) for a long time, only instead of a revolver they have nukes, hundreds of them and they aren’t shy about brandishing them or boasting of aiming them at Moscow, or even Rome to blackmail their “allies”:

    We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome. Most European capitals are targets for our air force. Let me quote General Moshe Dayan: “Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.” I consider it all hopeless at this point. We shall have to try to prevent things from coming to that, if at all possible. Our armed forces, however, are not the thirtieth strongest in the world, but rather the second or third. We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen before Israel goes under.’

  9. RBJ September 28, 2014 at 12:05 pm | #

    Criticism is OK however I think there’s a need to clarify some basic facts. Zionism isn’t Judaism, thus “conversion” is a religious act but following Zionism is an ideological/political/social act.

    In fact, the main orthodox Judaism opposed and fought Zionism from its very beginning,

    Zionism had began as a liberal-secular national revival movement that in its core abhorred religious life, though it kept deep cultural ties to Jewish history and tradition. Thus, eating bacon or being Wiccan has nothing to do with Zionism. In fact many good standing Zionists 🙂 enjoy bacon etc. and Wicca Israel is quite an active center.

    Therefor, your conclusion should be exactly the opposite – This is what Judaism (as it currently realized by the more vocal groups) has done to Zionism.

    • nafnaf September 28, 2014 at 8:56 pm | #

      This is a confused comment. Judaism is inherently a political religion. That is one reason why it is called a religion of laws. And, as for being tied to a particular part of the world, the issue taken up by some religious Jews is that God did not deliver a messiah to establish the new Israel; rather, a secular movement led by an atheist Trotskyite founded the country. Some religious Jews have changed their mind and concluded that, having been established and, particularly after the Six Day War, it must have been God’s will.

      • RBJ September 29, 2014 at 1:51 am | #

        I didn’t realized that comments are being graded here.

        Saying the Judaism is a “political religion” is meaningless tautology.

        Zionism is a modern political ideology and Corey’s opening remarks were misleading by mixing apples and oranges.

  10. Diana September 28, 2014 at 12:27 pm | #

    If it’s any consolation Christianity is even worse — “Prosperity Gospel” is a perfect and complete inversion of Christ’s teachings to give all you have to the poor and store up your treasures in Heaven instead. Moreover, there is absolutely nothing in any of Christ’s teachings about abortion or homosexuality, and yet opposition to them, along with pure greed, is the unquestioned core of America’s evangelical Christianity.

    So give Zionism the credit it is due: while in its current form it may illustrate none of the teachings of the Torah, at least it is not a complete contradiction to everything in it.

  11. BillR September 28, 2014 at 3:58 pm | #

    Emotional blackmail is also a common tactic as typified by someone who’s had it upto here with criticism of Israel:


    As Tacitus observed a couple of thousand years ago:

    Crime once exposed has no refuge but in audacity.

    Some of the commenters here seem to be, consciously or subconsciously, falling into the timeworn groove outlined in the 4 step guide to hasbara even as they are wagging fingers at civil strife in other countries in the region (“whataboutery” as it’s called at mondoweiss):


  12. truthbetold September 28, 2014 at 4:13 pm | #

    Israel claims to be Judaism. The Law of Return says that a “Jew for Jesus” and other
    converted to Christianity Jews are not eligible.Not only says they are not eligible but
    defines them as “ex-Jews.”
    Rabbinical law should be dissolved and the state turned into a secular state.
    That won’t happen until the right of return for Palestinians is implemented and a plebiscite held on how Israel/Palestine is to be governed.

    • MAt October 4, 2014 at 7:12 pm | #

      You mean a binational state?? Jews would be a minority and there’s no guarantee Palestinians would not implement some of Sharia law.
      In regard to Jews for Jesus, they are a form of christian jews and of course they aren’t eligible

  13. peggoty September 28, 2014 at 6:41 pm | #

    That’s basically what my father did (well, except for the Wiccan part) and nobody blinked an eye, including his family which had escaped the Ukrainian pogroms…

  14. Arjay September 28, 2014 at 7:20 pm | #

    Great commentary but not on point to your initial statement — specifically, criticizing Israel puts you outside the pale (literally or figuratively). That question seems specific to the U.S. Jews in Israel criticize Israel and don’t suffer the slings and arrows as occur in America among American Jews (although it seems to be getting pretty tense there to). I’m not an expert and don’t have much of a dog in the fight. As an outsider, I’ve wondered why American Jews are so much more strident and ready call dissident Jews takfiri for criticizing Zionism. More defensive for not being on the front line and therefore more royal than the king for that? I don’t know. As an IR poli sci type, I’m more focused on the fact that Israel is a state (which is to say Zionism was successful) and Israel is going to act like a state. We shouldn’t expect state behavior to match any kind of idealism. Post-revolutionary U.S. had to come to grips with the fact that all that theory that got generated in getting the revolution off the ground, really didn’t fit into being a state and responding to state needs. If anything, the jump from Zionist idealism to the exigencies of managing a state in the Mid-East is far greater than what happened with the U.S. This isn’t to say there are really important and engaging issues about Zionism and being Jewish. Just a reminder — states have interests that won’t comfortably match trans-national movements.

  15. Alex September 28, 2014 at 8:33 pm | #

    Thank you Rebbe Corey, clearly my google-fu is lacking.

    Read the piece “Jews Without Israel” and the comments back and forth between atlanticus and bensday823 were hilarious. Maybe it’s because like bensday823 I was brought up at once a non-jewish jew and a goy (only “jewish” on fathers side although as it turns out mother’s side are lost jews in part also) that I have a non-liberal pessimistic approach to life in general and towards the Jewish/Israel question in specific. That and other family life experiences that are tangential.

    I think bensday823 is on to something. I cheer on the Palestinian resistance as they shoot back, I donate to Professor Salaita, I support BDS etc and I don’t think that Palestinian self determination should be held hostage to Jewish fears. However, I think there is a real issue with Jewish fear of losing control of Israel/Palestine, given the genocide that occured in our parents and grandparents generation. Of course there are the more base motivations: racism, lording it over another people, etc. but the zionists are not the Afrikaners or the Pied Noirs.

    I think there is a mass psychology about this- fear and anger, transferance etc from genocide to the Palestinian question which makes this a much more difficult issue. Perhaps the issue will fade as the older generations retire and die, but looking at all the anti-arab racism of the younger Israelis, the sectarianism of the broader middle east that Gilbert Achcar has compared to the period of the Hundred Years War, in the still broader context of climate catastrophe, I’m not so sanguine for a peaceful settlement even if the question of state and self-determination are settled in the not-too distant future.

    Anyway, not to say that BDS is not the way to go, I support it, but your question of zionism and Jewish identity may not be resolved so easily, given the genocide that occurred.

    • MAt October 4, 2014 at 7:15 pm | #

      This is a very good post

  16. Roz September 29, 2014 at 2:04 am | #

    Reading through your posts has restored some sense of sanity to my experience as an Am Jew of mixed descent. Having a mom who converted from the Lebanese Maronite church, I was never fully inside the community, though I worked awfully hard at it for many years. Things are trickier still now, given how insane the reaction to critique of Israel has become. (One powerful Jewish atty called me a cunt and told me to kill myself repeatedly online in a Salaita thread–and not a single person stepped in to call him out…) It’s been tempting to simply say–whatever, I’m not a really a Jew anyway, since I don’t follow the orthodox faith that made my mother one.

    It hardly matters in the end–Jew not a Jew, it’s not like the universe hangs in the balance. But so many of my own deepest, most cherished moral codes come from Jewish thought. I often find in fact that the loudest pro Israel Am Jews have very little sense of their (our?) own tradition, no sense of what is beautiful in it, let alone anything like an adequate understanding of Israeli and Zionist history. So it’s painful. (Not least because there actually is a nasty streak of anti-Jewish sentiment on the left. And you can’t challenge that without being called someone who calls everyone an anti-Semite, at which point it’s just crazymaking.)

    You write with compasion, knowledge, and clarity–and I’m grateful. Reading your blog has been a moment of respite and connectedness. So nice in this season of exile. Thanks.

    • Roz September 29, 2014 at 2:16 am | #

      Please forgive typos–phone typing.

  17. Frank September 29, 2014 at 1:51 pm | #

    Why do you paint Zionism with a blanket brush? Moreover, why do you denigrate the idea of a state, as if the past two hundred years worth of history hasn’t been defined by underrepresented and marginalized groups striving for a state of their own. Given that we have two hundred years of people willing to die for a state, maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to imply its unimportance.

    Moreover, their are plenty of Ultra Orthodox Jews who oppose the state of Israel and who would denounce your form of Judaism. So, what, exactly, has the introduction of Zionism done? Made it somehow intolerant whereas before Judaism was a bastion of liberal ideals? Come on. Intolerance doesn’t need nationalism to justify itself – there is secular and religious, liberal and conservative, political and apolitical intolerance.

    Perhaps the problem is that you don’t sufficiently understand why you’re hitting a nerve? Or, better yet, maybe the problem is with your sample size, i.e., “many Jews I know.”

    However, I’d suspect it’s a combination of the two.

    • Edward September 29, 2014 at 8:40 pm | #

      “Moreover, why do you denigrate the idea of a state…”

      The problem here may not be so much the desire for a state (although nationalism has problems) but taking a state from someone else.

      “So, what, exactly, has the introduction of Zionism done? Made it somehow intolerant whereas before Judaism was a bastion of liberal ideals?”

      Judging from the way Jewish Zionists react to criticism of Israel I would say these are people heavily influenced by Zionsim. I also suspect the transition from “have-nots” to “haves” has influenced Jewish society.

      • RBJ September 30, 2014 at 3:35 am | #

        “The problem here may not be so much the desire for a state…but taking a state from someone else.”

        Who else but us Americans know something about it?

        Alas, 100-150 years separate these events and the idea of nationalistic self-determination was promoted by no other than an American president, augmented by the fact that all major nations of the world recognized such right (not to mention the wee small fact that the area was part of the Ottoman Empire, no state existed there, nor in the entire Middle East).

        However, important as it may be, bickering about the past isn’t the issue. The issue is how to find a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, within the larger context of the problematic Middle East and its affect on the democratic world.

      • Edward September 30, 2014 at 9:44 am | #


        I am not sure I follow your argument here. Prior to WWI, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon all comprised the province of trans-Syria in the Ottoman empire. You seem to be suggesting that people are deprived of their rights if they don’t belong to special states. Is ethnic cleansing not a crime if people do not belong to favored states?

  18. Howard Bernstein October 4, 2014 at 11:34 am | #

    your comment is based on the false premise that Jews hate you for being anti-Israeli policy or anti-Zionism…the fact is that some Jews are against what you believe, not all Jews…I and many of my friends kind of agree with you thus we have no need to write you or argue with you. You are reacting to those who are vociferous in their opposition. I agree it it may be a large percentage, especially in North America, but many, many Jews, including many in Israel, agree with your basic premise. I find your reaction curiously American…I see the same reaction from the US towards Islam and Muslims, towards the far right right in politics, towards all those who disagree with America, there is a tendency to overrate the opposition…is this out of fear? is this a reaction to 9/11? is this a small mindedness that grows from America’s insular nature? I certainly have no answer, but I and many others outside the US marvel at what we see coming from the US, and not in a good way. Remember, these are the thoughts of someone who agrees with your basic premise.

  19. Christopher Harlos October 4, 2014 at 1:11 pm | #

    Zionism is State Violence.

  20. Cahokia October 7, 2014 at 12:00 am | #

    You can just as easily argue that your passionate self-interest in what constitutes your Jewish identity is itself emblematic of the reactionary mind.

    The left suffers from a peculiar blindness regarding Jewish privilege. Philip Weiss touches on it, but only in order to emphasize the moral responsibility that comes with power. But who other than the right racialist fringe questions the justice of that power to begin with?

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